Boundaries: Cultural Observations on the Fifteenth Anniversary of 9/11

I find myself rather contemplative on this day, in some ways not quite believing 15 years have passed since the unspeakable tragedy. Thus, the following will be a few of my scattered thoughts and some conclusions I’ve drawn in this unfortunate retrospective.

Be forewarned if you continue reading that I start with an ostensibly pessimistic thread about the cultural changes since 2001. Then I was starting my second year in an M.F.A. program in Savannah, GA. I happened to be in my tiny apartment in the historic district, the Today show on in the background, when the infamous live terror attack began to unfold. I was preparing to walk the few blocks to my illustration class in Kanter Hall, when pretty much what had been “normal” was replaced with “the unknown.”

Our professor at that time, the wonderful Katherine Sandoz, was clearly nonplussed when we entered the studio, speaking of a friend she had tried in vain to phone in Manhattan and sharing the collective angst that everyone felt. We even remained in class that day, most just sort of walking around in a daze and not particularly inclined to draw or create anything new. K. encouraged us to create an illustration related to the breaking news, if for no other reason than as a therapeutic exercise. Here are some of my initial sketches from a previous post: Nine Eleven.

These ultimately resulted in this prelim. study and final tissue paper collage:

Maybe I made a weird mash-up of Mayor Guiliani and Harry Potter there, but it was what it was.

Despite the brief interregnum of empathy, faith, and volunteerism that we witnessed for a few years following the tragedy, time gave way to forgetfulness and growing complacency about what it meant to be an American. I’m sad to observe that a decade and a half later, I observe a more vitriolic and cynical feeling in this country than ever before. According to an online dictionary, vitriol refers to harsh, nasty criticism and is : “abusive or venomous language used to express blame or censure or bitter deep-seated ill will.” Initially , vitriol was the name for sulfuric acid, which burns through just about anything. Yikes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past year or so, I think most agree that our culture suffers from a pandemic of apathy and skepticism. There’s a widespread lack of respect for police, pastors, professors, and priests — just to name a few. I found it unconscionable to read this news item from yesterday, proving that social media continues to stoke widespread panic and misinformation while fomenting absurd conspiracy theories:

This makes me recall a song from the popular ’80s band Duran Duran titled “Notorious.” The lyrics state:

I can’t read about it, burns the skin from your eyes
I’ll do fine without it, here’s one you don’t compromise
Lies come hard to disguise
Let me to fight it out, not wild about it

Lay your seedy judgements, who says they’re part of our lives?
You own the money, you control the witness
I hear you’re lonely, don’t monkey with my business
You pay the profits to justify the reasons
I heard your promise but I don’t believe it
That’s why I’ll do it again


you can view the video here: NOTORIOUS

We build barriers for various reasons, not all of them agreed upon by the populace [fences to keep things in like livestock, and also to keep things out like illegal immigrants] and, NO, I’m not supporting Trump’s idiotic proposal. But just consider how many cultural milestones have bolstered our growing fatigue and diminished sense of security (if not rise of paranoia)…

How many of us know our “Security Code” on credit cards? You know, CSC; also called card verification data, card verification number, card verification value (CVV)…[uggh]. The wiki site states: “The use of the CSC cannot protect against phishing scams, where the cardholder is tricked into entering the CSC among other card details via a fraudulent website. The growth in phishing has reduced the real-world effectiveness of the CSC as an anti-fraud device. There is now also a scam where a phisher has already obtained the card account number (perhaps by hacking a merchant database or from a poorly designed receipt) and gives this information to the victims (lulling them into a false sense of security) before asking for the CSC (which is all that the phisher needs).”

Or, how about the more recent “CHIP” or EMV card?? Now instead of sliding the strip, we’re instructed to Dip the Chip [an old Seinfeld episode famously warned against this, no?]gty_emv_chipHowever, from an ABC News report dated 10.1.2015: “Sean McQuay…credit card expert…, said fraudsters are going to bug every non-EMV payment terminal they can to steal credit card information because these terminals will become the path of least resistance for theft. ‘Consumers need to be wary of any store that forces them to swipe their card as opposed to dipping the chip — old terminals will be even more susceptible to hacking until they’re upgraded,’ he said.”

So, what does one make of all this? Well, I must close with an OPTIMISTIC mindset.

I was inspired this morning by CBS’ Martha Teichner’s quote about the place dubbed “Ground Zero,” now a permanent memorial: “it’s a place to look down and weep…but also a place to look up and rejoice.”

At the risk of sounding like a sermon, I really want to believe that the cultural quagmire we are in will reverse. In fact, as Dutch Sheets observed only 3 years ago: “It is okay to grieve, like Jeremiah or Nehemiah, over the condition of our nation, but we must not give in to discouragement and fear. God is calling forth an army of faithful followers who will come up out of their discouragement to boldly push back the darkness.”

Finally, I find quiet comfort and great hope from scripture:

JOEL 21: 28-32        “THE DAY OF THE LORD”

28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

Also….. [special thanks to Tanner Griffith, pastor of Vintage, for this recent reminder]…

PSALM 85                 Revive Us Again

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

1 Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

2  You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.    Selah

3  You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

4  Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!

5  Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

6  Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?

7  Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

8  Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.

9  Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.

10  Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

11  Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.

12  Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

13  Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.

May the Lord heal our brokenness and restore the things that have evaporated over the years. That is all.




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